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5/23/2024 By Elizabeth Hanke

Plaintiff fact sheets (PFSs) are standard forms frequently used in multidistrict litigation (“MDL”), or other coordinated discovery procedures, to gather general information about plaintiffs’ claims.  One case or complaint may be brought on behalf of many plaintiffs with similar allegations and facts, but there are relevant person-specific facts that need to be collected to both manage and defend the case. For example, the plaintiffs all used the same drug, which they allege caused the same or similar injuries, but each has different dates, doses, etc. PFSs can be a formal part of the proceedings, court-approved, and created collaboratively by multiple defendants. 

In addition to PFSs, a mass-tort driven bankruptcy will likely have a standardized proof of claim (POC) that collects plaintiff-specific details.  For institutions facing numerous allegations of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct, we often see standardized questionnaires used to collect important facts about the alleged abuse. Certain jurisdictions also have similar procedural requirements for gathering facts in a standardized format known as a “bill of particulars”. No matter the mechanism used to collect the data, the methodology is pretty much the same. The same questions are asked of multiple plaintiffs in an attempt to streamline and standardize the collection of data needed to evaluate and ultimately resolve a case. 

While posing the same question to multiple plaintiffs seems like it would result in consistent and useful data, typically it only gets you so far on the “useful data” spectrum. This can be because many of the questions are open-ended, sometimes specifically designed to help plaintiffs make their case.  Additionally, it is not uncommon for the plaintiffs to be represented by different counsel, some of whom prefer to answer every carefully crafted question as “see attached”.  The “attached” can take on any format desired and is sometimes a declaration clearly written by the plaintiff counsel to serve a particular point!

Ideally the standardized questions of a PFS would be answered directly on an online portal that includes some data validation rules for consistency and reduces deficiencies such as unanswered questions or invalid responses.   This sort of secure, online portal exists, including KCIC’s own Ligado platform, but often is only used for very large MDLs. This could be because of the misconception that implementing such a system is cost prohibitive.

When an online collection platform is not used, the PFSs are often provided as PDF files and that can create some issues in getting the intended value from them.  The biggest problem is that, in PDF form, the PFS will need further processing to get the data into a format usable for analysis. While this sounds to be somewhat derogatory toward all PDFs, it is certainly true that not all PDFs are created equal.  A fill-in PDF is much easier to turn into useful data than a PDF made from a scan of a print-out, and the worst kind of PDF for this purpose is a scan of a questionnaire or form containing hand-written responses.

Transcribing the collected information typically involves some combination of electronically recognizing and extracting data through optical character recognition (OCR), processing that data into standardized fields and values, analyzing the data for deficiencies, and performing extensive quality control and review before making any conclusions from the collected data.  Depending on the results of the quality control of the data, sampling may be required to further verify that the transcribed data accurately represents what was reported on the PDF of the PFS. The amount of time this process takes depends on the volume of information, the starting format and the level of detail and precision needed for the case. 

“Standardizing responses” can involve subjective judgement calls and needs to be carefully coordinated with counsel. Standardizing medical doses or a diagnosis to be the same across plaintiffs will likely require less judgment than standardizing facts around sexual abuse, for example.  While standardizing dates is fairly easy, the consequences of interpreting the “mid-70s” to be “1975” versus “1973-1975” varies greatly depending on how the standardized dates will be used.

If done correctly, the results of importing plaintiff fact sheets (or any other format used for collecting plaintiff specific data) into a well-designed database can be transformational for defendants in complicated mass tort litigation. What started as the dreaded PDF file can end up as data that can be used by defendants and their counsel to make strategic decisions and facilitate meaningful, data-driven resolutions.

Elizabeth Hanke

About Elizabeth Hanke

For nearly 25 years, Elizabeth Hanke has been a trusted advisor in both the settlement and litigation arenas, and KCIC clients can always expect her to work passionately on their behalf.

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